I had been stuck down at the waterfront for days. The weather turned cloudy early, and a thick fog rolled in from god-knows-where, prowling the lower half of the city, sitting in the trash-littered alley ways on thick haunches, peering in the windows of dilapidated houses down near the harbor and pressing its grimy nose against the crooked window panes, and streaking the glass with its curdling breath.
Spooked, I packed quickly and left the drafty, dingy inn I was staying at within the hour. On the muddy streets outside, I passed a sailor wearing a blue scarf and an old woman selling lilies for half a penny a piece. But night had fallen and with the fog, the harbor section of the city was becoming a ghost town. Landmarks had been reduced to shadows and any friendly lights in the night—candles and lanterns shining out from the windows of taverns and tinkers’ hovels—were few and far between. I made it down to the docks by feeling my way there blindly but when I reached the water’s edge, I found the fog even thicker in the harbor. The fog’s gray fingers were curled tightly and vice-like around the keel of the ship I had planned to sail out of this place.
I sighed and stopped typing.
My setting was a solid steampunk wonderland. I had played in the harbor section of this lakeside city for five chapters. All the street corners were lit with cheery gas lights and marked with Victorian-esque street names noted on tin signs in chipping gold letters on plain black backgrounds. My main characters, a girl in a red coat and her French chauffeur, had interacted with all necessary minor characters. They’d met local celebrities and encountered a number of curious coincidences. They’d tracked down an English widow who told them about murderous plots and then made them stay for tea. She served them little jam-filled sugar cookies that tasted like sawdust filled with crude oil. They smiled graciously and thanked her anyway.
They had even found a captain to take them across the lake. He had a mechanical arm with metal fingers that unfurled with the spin of a small brass wheel at his elbow. The chauffeur had some doubts about the captain but the girl in the red coat wanted to get moving.
And then the fog rolled in.
It just happened too. Without warning. One minute, the sun was out and the pieces were moving fluidly, as if by magic. My fingers could barely keep up with the pace. The next minute I was stuck, my characters were stuck and everything was drowning in that murky, damp fog. The girl in the red coat was waiting it out under the now dimming lamplight of a street corner in town, lost, soaked to the skin and grimacing. Her chauffeur was beside her, trying to light a cigarette vainly and muttering French curse words under his breath. He struck a match but the oppressive dampness snuffed it out. Merde.
I wrote a couple sentences but backspaced over both. And then I erased the previous sentence too, just for good measure. Wait it out, I told myself. Take a break. I got up from the desk in my office and paced a little. I went to the movies, I met some friends for coffee, I read some trashy magazines, I took a long walk in my own red coat and cleared my head of clutter. Life moved forward and I moved with it. The girl in the red coat and her French chauffeur remained stranded on the foggy street corner, making small talk.
As it always does, the fog cleared eventually. A change in my current writing soundtrack (from soft folk to heavy alt-rock anthems) seemed to blow it back to the outer harbor. It only dissipated completely in its own time and at its own pleasure. Much like real weather. Sacré bleu. But this bought me some time. I hurried the girl in the red coat and her French chauffeur out of the city and back the way they came. Forget the ship and get in the ’28 Bentley. The one-armed captain had some shady qualities anyway. I’m not convinced that he wouldn’t have dumped them both over the side of his ship and ruined the story for everyone. The chauffeur had reservations about him from the beginning. Okay, there it was, now I had momentum.
Inspired, I had them leave in the dark of night. They drove out of the city in a fog that cleared when they reached the city limits.
Gretchen Tessmer is a writer based in Northern New York. For her latest projects/publications, follow her at misstessmer.tumblr.com. Gretchen Tessmer's story, "Breakfast in the Boondocks," appears in issue 297.4.
Photograph by Rob Brewer from Bristol, England